All Parliament House staff may be forced to undertake sexual harassment prevention training

There must be an overhaul of the misogynistic and dangerous “boys club” many allege Parliament House is, including making voluntary anti-harassment training mandatory, workplace sexism experts say.

Revelations of sexual assault, harassment and other misconduct at federal parliament in recent years has led many to view the workplace as a blatantly unsafe environment for women.

As a result, there had been a loss of trust and pride in parliament, and that needed to be fixed, an Australian National University panel said.

“It is unacceptable that imbalances of power mean women are pressured into silence or quitting their dream jobs because of a lack of accountability or consequences for perpetrators of harassment, violence and discrimination,” a submission from the panel read.

All Parliament House staff may be forced to undertake sexual harassment prevention training

Camera IconAt the women's protest on Canberra’s Capital Hill in March, TV journalist Lisa Wilkinson lamented that Parliament House ‘appears to be the easiest place in this country to rape a woman and get away with it’. Credit: Supplied

The panel has drafted a model code of conduct aimed at addressing the issue, proposing clear guidelines for an ideal workplace where “everybody is treated with respect and courtesy”.

The guidelines include unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour being dealt with seriously and independently, with effective sanctions imposed by Parliament House on offenders.

Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins came forward to her boss alleging she was raped by a colleague within Parliament House in 2019.

He had his employment terminated 10 days later.

Ms Higgins was also made to discuss the incident in depth in the very same office where the alleged rape occurred.

“I think Brittany Higgins coming out really showed how horrific it is in Parliament House for women,” ANU gender expert and panel leader Blair Williams said.

“We need an independent complaint system. We need an independent body to oversee the code and handle complaints.

“We need real sanctions and consequences for offenders.”

The model code of conduct called for all staff to participate in training on sexual harassment prevention and management – which is currently voluntary.

Dr Williams stressed that the staff within parliament who were most likely to behave inappropriately were also the least likely to attend the non-mandatory training.

“We need mandatory training for MPs and other staff,” she said.

The code will be submitted to Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkin’s independent inquiry into the culture of Parliament House on Friday.

It will apply to anyone who enters Parliament House, including workers and visitors in all parts of the building.

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